Universally, the first day of summer camp includes a swim test. For the safety of everyone the adults needs to know who can swim and who can’t.
Those who can swim can go into the deep end while those who can’t need to learn.
We need to teach our students to swim
As Jon and I began working on the Good News in the Neighborhood curriculum we agreed on a driving principle: Our curriculum cannot be prescriptive. It sickens me that so many curriculums dumb things down to “3 easy steps to application.” I hate the “easy” lie in ministry stuff. As if following Jesus were easy? As if becoming Good News in your neighborhood were going to be easy? It’s not, as we describe in the introduction… if you take the task of walking with Jesus seriously, you’re life will get jacked.
One of the great failures of the church is the silent driving force of dependency. We’ve made one of the core things we teach that we need to keep coming to church in order to grow. That’s keeping students and adults in the shallow end with their floaties on. So, as the line of reasoning goes, to step into “pseudo maturity” you have to become more and more involved (read dependent) on the ministry of your local church. Whereas, that might be the case for some people– but for the vast majority of people, a sign of maturity would be less dependency on the ministry of the church. Consequently, worship services primary focus has become teaching stuff you’ll never be held accountable to apply instead of celebrating what God is doing in our collective.
Instead of keeping students in the shallow end and dependent on our teaching we need to push some students into the deep end of the pool. (So we can better invest our time on people who can’t actually swim!) Sometimes, at least in my ministry, I’ve had students who grew up in the church, who won every Awana award, who come from great families. And I want to tell them the truth… the best way for you to mature in your relationship with Jesus is not to be a part of youth group but to apply all of that stuff to your life! You’re competent, now get out.
Conversely, one of the biggest things holding students back is that we let them come back to the shallow end of the pool forever without ever forcing them to apply what they’ve learned. (And what does that say about their parents? Are they hanging out in the shallow end after 30 years of walking with Jesus?)
No more mommies
As we move forward with youth ministry into our next 50 years, I’m hoping we drop the mommy stance. “Oh sweetie, stay in the shallow end as long as you want. Lots of people wear floaties forever.”
It’s time to kick that stance to the curb. If we really want to see our ministries become Good News in our context… we need to push the people who are ready into the deep end as the most loving thing we can do. Go, swim, let’s celebrate your success in the deep end.
Wanna flip the script? Let’s give them a swim test and if they pass, banish them from the shallow end of the pool for a while.
photo credit: West Point Public Affairs via Flickr (Creative Commons)
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